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Mueller's Investigation, According To The Media


We're still waiting to hear what's in special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. And if you're following developments on cable news, your understanding of this moment may depend on which network you've been watching. Here's Pete Hegseth on "Fox & Friends" this morning.


PETE HEGSETH: Ding-dong, the witch hunt is done. The headline on all of this is, after all this money, all these days, all this investigation, no Russian collusion found or indictment brought against President Trump.

MARTIN: And this was Rachel Maddow on MSNBC last night.


RACHEL MADDOW: Finally, it's happened. In terms of what that means and what Mueller found, we know only the smallest little bits. This is the start of something, apparently - not the end of something.

MARTIN: Throughout the nearly two years of the Mueller investigation, the cable networks have served up the news through very different lenses. So we wanted to think about that a bit more - to ask how the news coverage may have shaped public perceptions and expectations of the Mueller probe. For that, we're joined now by NPR's media correspondent, David Folkenflik.

David, thanks so much for joining us.


MARTIN: So, first, what are you seeing today on the cable networks? And how does that track with what we've been seeing over the past two years?

FOLKENFLIK: It's wall-to-wall coverage. On MSNBC, it's really a question of, you know, what's next, what else could possibly happen now we know that the special prosecutor is not going to file into any further indictments? At least, that's the word from the Department of Justice.

On CNN, you're seeing these enormous panels unfold, like, getting into every aspect of it, trying to talk to people on various elements of it, various levels of expertise. And that's sort of analogous to the way they've covered it, you know, with these panels upon panels upon panels of all these surrogates of the Trumpites (ph), the Never Trump right and the, you know, deeply anti-Trump left being at times fact-checked by hosts or having CNN reporters on to kind of guide it journalistically.

Then, of course, there's Fox. And Fox is giving you a very accurate picture of the world as long as that world is as defined as - by the president's surrogates like, say, Rudy Giuliani, one of his attorneys - not necessarily about where the facts go. Fox has been playing a very vigorous defense against the president's critics and against those running the investigation.

MARTIN: Now, we've been talking about the cable networks. What about the newspapers? And here, we're mainly focused on the big national papers with experienced and robust reporting teams. How has their journalism held up?

FOLKENFLIK: I think, by and large, pretty well. The Mueller investigation has been an extraordinarily tight ship. It's not leaky. There hasn't been a lot of drips and drabs coming from investigators themselves. Instead, reporters have had to do their own investigative work sort of in parallel and follow the threads. And, as a result, they've had to make cases, really pinning down specific incidents.

So you've seen things that ultimately fed other investigations, like David Farenthold and his colleagues in The Washington Post raising questions about the legalities of some of the organizations the president has led and some of his associates have been involved with. I think there's been some really good reporting, by and large, on the national level. And only now and then have little elements of it been seriously challenged.

MARTIN: So how may the coverage have shaped public perceptions and expectations about Mr. Mueller's work?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the stakes were grand and enormous because it was about the questions of criminality from the highest levels, about people around the president, about the president himself, both before running for office, in running for office and possibly in office itself. And at the same time, because the nature in which we absorb news, people say, well, if there are no indictments, maybe there wasn't anything that was that severe. If collusion isn't proved on a criminal level involving the president right now, maybe it's not that big a deal.

And I think because of the instantaneous nature of the dissemination of news online on social media, digitally on cable, we forget that, you know, this was an investigation that seems to have yielded so far, I believe, something like three dozen indictments, a whole lot of criminal charges alleged and many of them seemingly confirmed and proven.

There are other parallel kinds of investigations taking place in the state and federal level and other outfits. I think this is pretty serious stuff, and I think the nature and way in which news is disseminated right now, people tend to forget that.

MARTIN: That's NPR's David Folkenflik.

David, thank you so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.